High-Performance Changeovers: Reduce Waste & Boost Manufacturing Agility

Posted by Greg Beresnikow

Jan 13, 2015 9:00:00 AM

large_566738725In NASCAR, victories can be won or lost in the pit. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, pit crews worked to get pit stops down from 30 seconds to the low 20s. Then in 1993, Ray Evernham transformed pit changes with his Rainbow Warriors and their high performance changeovers.  Ray and the Rainbow Warriors pushed the NASCAR pit change down to 11-12 seconds and helped lead Jeff Gordon to a slew of victories.

Inefficient “pit changes” in manufacturing burn money. If one tool, one load of materials, or one person is not in place at the right time when changing from one product to another, the entire process is delayed. The costs mount as each minute ticks off, translating directly to a decrease in profits.

Changeovers come in all shapes and sizes and can be quite complicated. In many cases, equipment has to be shut down while plant personnel handle tasks such as cleanouts, adjustments of equipment settings, recipe and raw material changes, packaging material changes, quality tests, HACCP checks, and various validations. Changeovers regularly require people from several different areas to collaborate. The goal is to get everything done correctly in as little time as possible with as little waste as possible.  It’s not easy.

Changeovers - A Fact of Life

Changeovers are fact of life in manufacturing. They cannot be avoided or eliminated; so, manufacturers have applied the strategy of manipulating production scheduling to curtail the number of changeovers and to reduce their complexity. 

  • gang up as many orders of the same product as possible
  • run the same product, but change only the packaging
  • change product flavors from light to dark
  • run non-allergen products one after the other, instead of mixing up the runs

The production scheduling strategy has two opponents.  First, manufacturers are under pressure to improve responsiveness to customer demands; be leaner, quicker and more flexible.  The second opponent is changeover inefficiency.

Like NASCAR, why not target the waste and inefficiency that cluster around these inescapable changeovers?

Costs and waste associated with changeovers come from all sides.  The most visible examples are idle labor and assets while the line is down. Missed steps or bottlenecks in changeovers can cause quality issues, waste, scrap, and rework. However, downstream cost may be even worse; delayed startups can result in missed deliveries, lost production, customer concessions, overtime pay, etc.    Very small details can create very big problems.

It is possible to ensure that the right tasks are completed with the right tools and right materials in the right sequence at the right time. High-performance changeovers do that by using workflow tools that enforce a systematic approach which virtually eliminates errors.  The time saved translates into increases in line capacity and overall manufacturing agility.  Bottom line – improvements can be substantial and the cost savings huge.

The High-Performance Changeover

In NASCAR, it’s still six guys with two air wrenches jumping over a wall for a “changeover;” but by getting the right people in the right place with the right tools and focusing on the small details, the pit change has been transformed.  What makes this possible?  Broadly speaking: Everyone knows exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. 

High performance changeovers require that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and delineated. Once that’s done, personnel must understand and be able to perform their tasks. Lastly, before every changeover occurs, the following steps should be taken:

  • Materials are in place
  • Tools are on hand
  • Personnel are ready

To unify these efforts, people must be enabled and encouraged to work collaboratively; succinct orchestration is vital: Changeover teams performing their tasks in the right steps, in the right way at the right time.

Workflow Enables High-Performance Changeovers

The value of high performance changeovers is clear, but managing all of the variables of a changeover is a challenge.  The key to success is a systematic approach.  Electronic workflow tools enforce a systematic approach and enable changeover improvement.

Using electronic workflow tools, unnecessary steps are removed and essential tasks are laid out either serially or in parallel so that everything is done in the most efficient manner possible.  All of the tasks are coordinated and opportunities for error are eliminated.  Electronic workflow tools systematize and automate the changeover process and will:

  • Provide prompts to ensure that all tools and materials are in place
  • Notify personnel (e.g. supervisors, maintenance, warehouse, quality, etc.) about changeovers so that each person knows which tasks to perform and when
  • Guide personnel through the process, with checklists and instructions specifically targeted for each individual
  • Dramatically reduce the chance of errors by enforcing procedures at every step
  • Handle exceptions and guide personnel through remediation

For example: the packaging line operator needs to change machine settings.  Workflow will provide the settings and required steps, prompt the action of changing the settings and require confirmation of completion. If an exception occurs, the workflow tool guides personnel through the steps needed to expedite a solution.  The entire changeover process, even handling exceptions, becomes more precise, repeatable and efficient.

An additional benefit of using workflow tools is the ability to gather critical data on the changeover process and directly support continuous improvement efforts.  Integrating workflow tools with plant and enterprise systems creates a framework for collecting and incorporating best practices from across the enterprise and using them to drive continuous improvement.

Four Steps to Improving Changeovers

  1. Identify specific goals for improvement.  Beyond the goal to reduce changeover time, specific goals should be defined in terms of reduced product waste, equipment downtime, OEE, or cost of idle labor.
  2. Identify the challenges to these goals.  Understand your changeover process in detail; the steps, required resources, tools, materials, etc. Is there a recurring problem from past changeovers?  Where is the bottleneck(s)? 
  3. Implement an electronic workflow tool.  Enable systematic, repeatable changeovers by supporting and guiding personnel through each step and directing them through exceptions with electronic workflow.
  4. Embrace continuous improvement.  Analyze the comprehensive data on changeover performance being collected with workflow and target the areas where potential for improvement still exists.


Changeovers in manufacturing are a fact of life – using electronic workflow tools to achieve high-performance changeovers provides extensive benefits: waste is reduced, line capacity increases, supply chain shows improvements, and plants experience greater ease handling a diversified product line with increased flexibility. High performance changeover in the pits is crucial to victory in NASCAR; they may be your source of competitive advantage as well.




photo credit: wishymom (Stephanie Wallace Photography) via photopin cc

Topics: Tips and Tricks

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